Claire Mackay, 1930-2013

Claire MackayAcross the country, news of Claire’s death on August 11 was met with much sadness. Friend, writer, mentor, a founding member of CANSCAIP, wife, mother, grandmother – it goes without saying she will be missed. Among words used to describe her on CANSCAIP’s Facebook page (and elsewhere) are: kind, funny, smart, wise, witty, wonderful, a fine woman, intelligent, kind, generous, passionate, caring, fierce, a pioneer, an avid baseball fan and grammarian, a breath of fresh air, an icon, accepting, supportive, dear, courageous, an inspiration, a guiding light, and two of my favourites: “a fairy godmother in running shoes” and “the Margaret Laurence of children’s literature in Canada”.

Since I first met Claire in the early 1980s, she has come to mind with every triumph and every crisis in my writing career, as someone I wanted to talk to, knowing how fully she would share any disappointment and every joy.

In honour of a dear friend, I’d like to share here part of a letter I wrote in the late spring of 2010, when I didn’t know how many more chances I’d have to tell her things I wanted her to know.

Dear Claire,

It’s been too long since I’ve been in touch with you, especially given how often I think of you. With summer weather upon us, I wonder if you’re well enough to go to your cottage this year. Knowing what special places cottages are, I hope so.

One of the other reasons I’ve thought of you this week is because Peter and I are having a party this weekend to celebrate our 25 years together. I know you and Jack have that beat by more than a few, but what the heck, you’ve got to celebrate these things as they come, right? 25 years! Can you believe it was that long ago (and more) that we told you at a post Book Week event at Kathy Lowinger’s that we had become an item? (That might not be quite how Peter expressed it, but it might be.) We didn’t figure you were making it to many parties these days, but we knew you’d enjoy knowing we’re having it.

And here’s another one, Claire. We had some out of town guests at our CANSCAIP meeting this month. Among them was Jill MacLean, whose Nine Lives of Travis Keating I very much enjoyed… I talked with Jill after the formal part of the meeting ended, and ended up driving her to where she was staying afterward… We’ve been in touch since and I’m hoping we’ll see her at our place in Nova Scotia in September.

And that’s so typical of the kind of connection that happens because of CANSCAIP. Another longstanding connection: Ainslie Manson and her husband David will join us at our place in Nova Scotia for several days, after they visit their son in Halifax. We’ve become such very good friends since the day in 1985 when she first came to a reading of mine in Vancouver and, because I was a fellow CANSCAIPer, invited me back to her place for lunch. I’ve visited Ainslie in B.C. often and we look forward to playing host to her and David for a change.

This letter could go on, with descriptions of various friendships that have formed over the years, thanks to CANSCAIP, and of course I’m just one of many many members across the country with similar stories to tell. Not all of us but many realize we owe thanks to you, in part, for how these connections have enriched our lives, the writing parts of them and otherwise. I hope you remain proud, even as you’ve had had to withdraw from many activities, of having helped found an organization that has enabled people in Canada’s children’s artistic community to forge such key connections.

The letter did go on. Needless to say, so does Claire’s legacy, through her books, her family, and through CANSCAIP.

Thank you, Claire, for all you have given us.

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Linda Granfield on August 21, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Well said, Kathy. I've been having flashbacks about Claire all week. Pearls and running shoes, the blazer, the glasses pulled on and off, her mother Bernice…

    What a dame!

  2. Kathy Stinson on August 22, 2013 at 3:11 am

    Linda, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the CANSCAIP community whose passing would create such vast ripples of remembrance across the country, isn't it. I've caught some of the commentary on CANSCAIP's Facebook page and love the idea that there might be gatherings in Claire's memory at which everyone in attendance would wear running shoes.

  3. Sheree on September 18, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Kathy, I just found out today nearly a month later — that week in August I was almost technology free and so I missed it — hit me in the tummy hard. Makes me wonder how so many are –as we are indeed seeing many pioneers reach elder status. Thank you for this. Hope to see you in the upcoming year. Hug that Peter. Sheree

  4. Kathy Stinson on September 19, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Sheree, I know what you mean about how it felt to hear about Claire. For a number of years now I've returned from tech-free vacations anticipating news of her passing, but it still felt not believable when word did come. Hope to see you before long too, Sheree. WOTS in Halifax on Sunday perhaps?

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